Everything you need to know about massage etiquette and spa etiquette.
Spa Etiquette Tips
Going to the spa for the first time can be a daunting experience.
It's supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable, but when going into that change room on your own and having to prepare for your first massage can be stressful and confusing.
Dave and I have enjoyed many spa experiences from luxury retreats to the downright quirky during our 18 years of travelling.
We have learned through trial and error what to do when entering every type of spa from a cheap hole-in-the-wall to a 5-star service establishment.
What we have noticed is that spa etiquette is pretty similar on every continent and at every price range.
So here's everything you need to know about spa etiquette to ease the stress.
1. Arrive Early
Depending on the facilities, you should arrive at least 15 minutes early to your appointment.
When entering a spa, you will need to fill out a form.
You'll be taken on a tour of the facility and you will need to change into your robe.
But honestly a half an hour to 45 minutes early is best because that way you can enjoy everything they have to offer.
Many spas have lavish sitting areas where you can enjoy tea or fruit-infused water while listening to soft music.
Other times they have saunas, soak pools and steam baths that you can take advantage of before or after your massage.
It helps you get into that Zen state to truly enjoy your massage. Plus you won't feel stressed about having to rush into your appointment.
We like to arrive 1/2 hour early to take advantage of that much needed quiet time and highly recommend that you try to do the same.
2. Ask Questions
Once you have filled out your paperwork, you will be taken to the change area by a staff member.
They will show you which locker is yours so you can lock your valuables away.
They will show you where you need to go after you change, and where all the facilities are like the sauna and steam room are.
If you are unsure about anything, ask.
This is your time to feel comfortable and relaxed so if you have questions, don't be afraid to ask.
I remember having a difficult time with an electronic locker in the past and instead of stressing about using it, I went back to the front desk to have a staff member come and help me.
You don't want to be wandering around aimlessly, so ask where you need to go next and what you need to do after the treatment.
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3. Go Nude
A lot of people never know how much clothing they should or should not be wearing at the spa.
Do you bring a bathing suit? Do you get a massage in your underwear?
Do you strip for a massage?
The answer is go nude all the way.
When you are taken in the back to the changing rooms, you will be given a robe and slippers to change in to.
If you are shy head to the private change room (most upscale spas have a private changing area) or go into a bathroom stall to strip down.
Put on your robe and head out to the waiting area.
The therapist will take you to your treatment room where they will show you everything.
They will then leave you for a few moments to take off your robe and slip under the covers.
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During your massage, you'll be under blankets and towels the entire time.
The therapist will only pull down the areas that he/she is working on at the time.
They keep you covered, so don't feel that you'll be laying on the table in the buff feeling awkward.
Massage therapists go to great lengths to make you feel comfortable. You'll be covered and feeling relaxed the entire time.
Note: This may not be the case in many spots in Asia, Turkey or Morocco. In spas there, you may be walking around naked, confused and they may just massage you in the buff on the table…and you just have to get used to it.
4. Quiet Time
During Dave's latest massage, he had a chatterbox therapist.
When we came out of our sessions to relax in the common area, Dave told me that his therapist wouldn't stop talking.
I asked him why he didn't tell her that he didn't want to talk?
He said, “he didn't know what to do.”
That's when I said, “it's your massage, you can do what you want.”
If you don't want to have a conversation with your therapist, they should appreciate your needs.
Simply say that you were hoping to relax and enjoy the treatment and would prefer not to talk. They won't be offended.
5. What to do when the Massage is over
After your massage, your therapist will leave you to relax.
Take your time getting up and enjoy the moment.
Don't take too long though as there are people coming in after you.
But you can take a few minutes to open your eyes, breathe in and stretch out those arms and legs.
Your therapist should be waiting outside with a glass of water and will show you to the relaxation area afterwards.
6. Tipping – What to do when the spa is done
I used to stress about bringing a tip with me into my treatment room to give to the staff. Don't worry your pretty little head about it.
Therapists don't expect you to give them a tip in hand. You don't have to tip immediately after the massage.
Relax and enjoy, and if you want to give a tip at the end, put it on the bill on your way out.
Some spas have tips included, so be sure to ask at the desk.
There is nothing wrong with asking a question.
Simply say, “is the tip included in the price?” If not, 15% – 20% is a good tip.
But don't feel obligated, just like service in a restaurant, tipping at a spa is not mandatory, but appreciated.
7. Use the facilities
Before or after your treatment you will have a variety of things to keep you occupied.
Besides teas and water, there are usually healthy snacks like fruits and nuts for your consumption.
If the spa has a steam room and sauna feel free to use them before or after your massage.
We like to go after our massage to get heat into our muscles, but you can go early too.
You can even have a shower to really feel refreshed and clean for your treatment.
Many spas have hair dryers, disposable razors, great lotions, shampoos and conditioners.
8. Steam room spa etiquette
Many spas have a steam room and sauna in both the women's and men's change rooms.
When using the steam room, you can go nude.
If a spa has a steam room, they will supply towels, you can wrap yourself in a towel and use it to sit on.
Make sure to sit on your towel, it's more hygienic than sitting in the nude on bare wood or marble.
You can use one towel to sit and another to wrap around your body if you prefer.
It's perfectly acceptable to go nude in the steam room.
If you feel uncomfortable, you can wear a bathing suit too. Just remember, you will probably look like the odd person out wearing swimwear. Most people will probably be in the buff.
Please do not do anything gross like clipping your toenails or exfoliating your heels.
9. Spa Whirlpool Etiquette
Some places have a swimming pool or whirlpool.
I always wear my bathing suit in a swimming pool.
Usually, if it is a large pool it's co-ed and they'll keep the saunas and steam rooms separate.
Even if the swimming pool is separated for the sexes to use, I still go in my bathing suit to swim. It just feels right to me.
The same is said for a whirlpool. If I am submerging in water, I wear a bathing suit.
10. Cell Phones
Leave your cell phone in your locker. I know many people want to share their spa experience on social media, but this is not the time nor place.
Spas are a sanctuary and nobody should have their privacy breached.
Note: When we've take our photos, we were working at had permission from the spas to take photographs while nobody else was around.
11. Quiet Time
When visiting a spa, be sure to respect the tranquility of the spa. Nobody wants to hear people laughing or shouting.
This is a place to keep conversations to a whisper.
When sitting in the steam room or sauna, don't try to make small talk with strangeers. People want to meditate and relax, not feel like they need to continue a conversation.
Different Types of Spas
We have experienced many different types of spa treatments around the world.
We've been to Hammams in Morocco and Turkey.
We've experienced the painful reflexology treatments in Penang Malaysia
And there was even an uncomfortable Ayurvedic massage we had in Alleppey, India where we didn't know what to think once it was over.
The hot cupping in China was definitely the most unique spa treatment we've ever had.
Spas are different around the world
Not all spas are created equal. In Scandinavia and Switzerland, you will be expected to be in the nude even if the spa is co-ed.
In Turkey and Morocco, they will give you a massage in the open on a marble stone as you lay naked without much privacy.
While all spas may be different, the one thing we suggest is to always ask questions, don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable and even if etiquette tells you that you need to strip to your birthday suit, don't do it if you aren't comfortable.
This is your time to enjoy, so make the most of it!
So now that you have the knowledge of what to do in the spa and what spa etiquette entails, book a day of pampering and take some time to relax.
Do you have any tips for first-time visitors to a spa?
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